Actor and star of It Ain’t Half Hot Mum

Born: August 28, 1930;

Died: January 17, 2019

WINDSOR Davies, who has died aged 88, was in his mid-forties when he became a star as the bombastic Sergeant-Major Williams in It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, David Croft and Jimmy Perry’s follow-up to Dad’s Army. Acting was his third career, having previously been a miner and a school teacher.

It Ain’t Half Hot Mum attracted audiences of 15 million in the 1970s, though it never achieved quite the same lasting popularity as Dad’s Army and remains controversial because of attitudes to race and sexuality - with Williams continually referring to the men of the Royal Artillery concert party under his command as “poofs”, and also because actor Michael Bates “blacked up” for his role as one of the Indian characters.

But there were eight series – 56 episodes – between 1974 and 1981. It made Davies one of the most familiar faces on British television, with his neat military moustaches, and wide eyed grin. It also made him an unlikely pop star. He and co-star Don Estelle had a UK number one in 1975 with a recording of Whispering Grass, a 1940s standard that they sang in character.

Estelle had a lovely singing voice. Davies spoke his part, occasionally adding a vocalised “boom, boom, boom” and making the odd sarcastic comment - “I will not have gossip in this jungle.”

Sgt-Major Williams was a larger-than-life character and Davies, with his booming Welsh voice, towered over Estelle and others in the cast, but Estelle was only 4 ft 9 ins. I met Davies in the 1990s when he appeared in a touring production of Run for Your Wife at the Eden Court Theatre in Inverness, with Britt Ekland, Robin Askwith and Ian Lavender and in real life he was surprisingly short himself and equally surprisingly a rather quiet-spoken individual, certainly when compared with Ekland and Askwith.

His sergeant-major character may have been a stereotype and some of the attitudes may now seem dated, but Croft and Perry’s defence, and that of Davies himself, was that they were drawing on their own personal experiences. "I think It Ain't Half Hot Mum was brilliant because that is how it really was," said Davies.

The public loved him and he was seen as a very similar sergeant-major in Carry on England in 1976. Davies enjoyed further success when he and the urbane Donald Sinden were cast as rival, but very different antique dealers in Never the Twain, forever trying to get the better of each other over the course of 11 series and 67 episodes between 1981 and 1991.

Davies was born in London in 1930, but grew up largely in the Welsh village of Nant-y-Moel, where his father came from. He worked briefly as a miner, like his father before him, and did his national service in the Army in North Africa. Subsequently he qualified as a teacher and taught maths and English for several years, while also appearing in local drama productions.

His wife encouraged him to consider it as a career. "Lynne said to me, 'You'll never be really happy unless you have a go at this, will you?'" he recalled in an interview with BBC Wales in 2012.

Davies got to know Don Estelle on the northern club circuit and served as “feed man” – feeding the line that leads to the punchline for comedians such as Dick Emery and Norman Wisdom; he also played a whole posse of policemen in the likes of Z-Cars and Softly, Softly in the 1960s and early 1970s.

He got his big break only after Leonard Rossiter turned down the role of the sergeant-major in It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. It had been written as a Londoner. Rossiter did not much like the idea and Croft and Perry auditioned other actors, including Davies.

"I did my old Cockney bit but they said, 'Hang on a minute, you're a Welshman - do it as a Welshman' and I remember thinking about a bloke I knew from the South Wales valleys, who talked this certain way, and they laughed and when I got home, my agent had called to say they wanted me. I thought, it's a series, which was lovely, with me having a wife and five children.’”

Much to his disgust, Sgt-Major Williams finds himself working with a group of soldiers in a concert party, who are happier in dresses than fatigues, but it was light-hearted, affectionate stuff. As Williams, Davies’s catch-phrases included a bellowed, frustrated “Shut up!” and the ironic “Lovely boys”, tagged on the end of a sentence. The latter was Davies’s own addition.

Davies, who had played rugby in Wales as a youth, starred in Grand Slam (1978), a one-off BBC drama, about a group of fans who go to Paris to watch a Grand Slam decider. It proved a hit on DVD, especially in Wales.

Davies also appeared in or provided voice-overs for numerous adverts, including Wispa and Heinz curried beans – “When you has travelled around the world a bit, like what I have, you comes to appreciate a more sophisticated diet.” He also provided the voice for the robot Sgt-Major Zero in Gerry Anderson’s Terrahawks (1983-86).

He retired to France. His wife died last September – they had been married for 62 years, and he is survived by their five children.